April 23, 2021

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The best 15-inch gaming and work laptop for 2021 – CNET

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Traditionally, American consumers veered toward the 15-inch size as a middle child between pricey, big-screen 17-inch laptops and smaller, less powerful 13-inch models, while many people outside the US favored 14-inch laptop computers. That line has blurred quite a bit over the past year as manufacturers such as Asus, Lenovo, HP and Acer have significantly broadened their laptop offerings — and marketing efforts — with more flagship 14-inch models. The best 14- and 15-inch laptops strike a balance between size, performance and price.

We selected the contenders for the best of these laptops based on performance for a given set of specs (aka, their configuration), design and features for the price. We include both premium and budget laptops, and take into consideration features like battery life, solid-state storage, GPU and graphics card, processor, hard drive, whether or not it has a 4K display, a touchscreen, a fingerprint reader or a backlit keyboard, and more. Screen size and price shouldn’t be the only thing dictating your laptop-buying decisions!  

Read more: Best Chromebook for 2021: Acer, HP, Asus, Lenovo and more compared

If you’re looking for a focus on lower prices or a broader set of options, check out our picks for laptops under $500 and budget gaming laptops. And choosing just a handful out of a sea of hundreds pretty much ensures that you’ll miss some important devices, especially if you’re looking for a more powerful laptop that’s tailored to specific needs, like video editing, so you should also head over to see our best gaming laptops, two-in-onesChromebooks and the best MacBook Pro alternatives for the Windows set. 

Specs and availability are often in flux, so we limited our choices to models that are current and that we’ve actually tested. We update this list periodically with new products and information.

Read more: Best gaming laptop to buy for 2021

Sarah Tew/CNET

It’s hard to find a budget laptop that’s also thin and light, much less one that has decent performance and battery life. The Aspire, which starts at around $500, hits all those targets and more, including a solid assortment of ports (including a USB-C port) and easily upgradable hard drive storage and memory. It’s got a budget build, but you can’t expect everything for so little money.

Read our Acer Aspire 5 (2019) review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Razer’s featureless-slab aesthetic fits seamlessly into almost any environment, making it the best 15-inch laptop for work and play. If you opt for one of the higher-end configurations and specs — like a great graphics card — the Razer Blade 15 Advanced is an excellent device for creative work and a stellar gaming laptop. If you’re willing to go with a black Razer Blade and an emptied wallet (this is among the most premium laptops), you can get an Adobe RGB calibrated 4K OLED display and a GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q for $3,300. The less expensive Base Edition starts at $1,500 and isn’t too shabby either, and the RTX 30-series models are in preorder.

Read our Razer Blade 15 Advanced review.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Available in both 14- and 15-inch versions, this refreshed and rebranded Yoga C940 remains one of our favorite two-in-ones. It now incorporates up to a quad-core Intel Core i7-1185G7 processor and up to Nvidia GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q discrete graphics. Plus, you gain the design flexibility of a convertible — kiosk mode (also called “stand mode“) and tent mode (my personal favorite), which are the best ways to use a laptop with a touchscreen that hangs around the house.

Read our Lenovo Yoga 9i review.

Lori Grunin/CNET

If, like me, you’re not a big fan of OLED screens for photo editing — they’re not optimized for Adobe RGB and aren’t great at tonal range in the shadows — what you need is a laptop with a good IPS display. The Dell XPS 15 9500 with the 4K screen option delivers that, and it’s not as reflective as the OLED screens I’ve seen. It doesn’t qualify as an “RTX Studio” laptop because it tops out at a GTX 1650 Ti, but that graphics processor is sufficient for most photo editing and you don’t need the Nvidia Studio drivers for most photo editing. Dell’s PremierColor software isn’t perfect, but it gives you more control over screen settings than most I’ve seen, and it has two Thunderbolt 3 controllers to make your external drives happy.

If you’re willing to go a little bigger for a lot more graphics power, the 17-inch XPS 17 9700 doesn’t feel smaller than it looks.

Read our Dell XPS 15 9500 review.


Lori Grunin/CNET

Dell’s G series comprises some of the best mainstream gaming laptops you can find, with strong performance, a variety of component options and a more travel- and user-friendly design than most. Plus, battery life is a lot better than a typical gaming laptop’s, and a solid-performance base configuration starts at less than $1,000.

Note: This 2019 model is no longer available; our testing for the latest model is in progress, but we don’t expect it to be a weak competitor in this category. Don’t assume it will continue to be an Editors’ Choice, however.

Read our Dell G5 15 5590 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

OLED displays have a combination of color gamut (100% P3) and contrast that IPS panels are struggling to match, but need calibration to keep your colors from chaos. The 15-inch Gigabyte is sleek and powerful — it’s got all the Nvidia Studio specs, it just lacks the logo, and you can download the more creative-application-focused Studio driver yourself. A color-profile switcher utility makes it more convenient to use, and it’s a well-designed laptop that performs solidly. And you can now preorder it with the new RTX 3060 for even better performance in video editing and 3D modeling and rendering apps. Note that the battery life isn’t great, though better than a lot of the gaming notebooks these laptops are based on, and the webcam is in a ridiculous spot.

Read our Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED review.

Josh Goldman/CNET

The Acer Chromebook 715 started life as a premium model targeted at a growing business market for Chrome OS devices. Along with its smaller sibling, the Chromebook 714, the 715 has a premium all-aluminum chassis built to survive drops from up to 48 inches (1.2 meters) and downward force up to 132 pounds (60 kg). You could also get the Chromebook 715 with a fingerprint reader, a backlit keyboard, an Intel Core i5 processor and 16GB of memory for around $750. Or you can get a much more affordable version that dials back on the specs and extras but keeps the premium build quality, making it a fantastic choice for a home office or student Chromebook.

Read our Acer Chromebook 715 review.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

The Chromebook Flip C434 was one of our favorites last year, and we think it’s a great Chromebook this year, too. It has a slim aluminum design with a 14-inch full-HD touchscreen. Inside you’ll find higher-end components than the previous iteration for greatly improved performance. This touchscreen Chromebook also comes with a higher price, though, starting at $700. Still, as Chrome OS matures, the extra processing performance is certainly nice to have, as is having that performance in an attractive design.

Read our Asus Chromebook Flip C436 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It may now have a 16-inch screen, but the MacBook Pro remains a 15-inch laptop in size and spirit. I’m not a fan of the Touch Bar, but at least the keyboard’s improved, and the combination of the MacBook Pro’s hardware and MacOS extracts the maximum performance from the components while delivering class-leading battery life in a way Windows systems never seem to do, and the Retina Display screen remains terrific. You pay for it, though — base price for the 16-inch MacBook Pro model is $2,250.

Read our Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019) review.

Josh Goldman/CNET

The Duo’s tilt-up second screen can act as an ancillary display, an extension of the primary display (for viewing those long web pages) or a separate control center from which you can run Asus’ custom utilities or as control surfaces for select creative applications. Plus, Asus excels at squeezing every bit of performance out of its high-end laptops, and the 14-inch delivers great battery life, as well. 

It comes in two models, the 2019 Pro Duo 15 OLED we reviewed and the 2021 14-inch Duo 14. The Pro Duo 15 OLED will have up to a 10th-gen Intel Core i9 processor, with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 discrete graphics and up to 32GB of memory when it arrives in April. The Duo 14 has either 11th-gen Core i5 or i7 processors, optional Nvidia MX450 discrete graphics and up to 32GB of memory.

Read our Asus ZenBook Duo review.

Lori Grunin/CNET

It’s not for everyone — it’s not from a mainstream manufacturer and it’s not an Intel processor — but for pure speed in something smaller than a megalithic 17-inch, the Eon15-X’s Ryzen 3900 desktop processor packs in the CPU cycles, turning it into a rendering powerhouse. With its GeForce RTX 2070 it’s not quite a gaming powerhouse, though.

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